The three articles about the destructive character of Silicon Valley (Chronicles, August 2019) were right on the mark and reminded me of how the area has changed over the years.

I first visited Santa Clara Valley nearly 70 years ago while temporarily serving as a young officer at a nearby naval base. It was beautiful with countless orchards and a number of food-processing plants. Although I was too young to appreciate the ethnic diversity, I only came to realize the beauty of it when it was too late. Ethnic Italians, Serbs, Croats, Portuguese, Japanese and a few Latinos and Northern Europeans populated the Valley and interacted with each other very well. The only “High Tech” was Ames Aeronautical Research Center, later a part of NASA.

Later in the late 1950s, and about the time I moved from North Carolina permanently into the Valley, the defense industry arrived along with countless immigrants from other states. Santa Clara Valley largely managed to maintain most of its beauty up to the end of the Cold War, the departure of nearly all defense industry, and the arrival of the “dot-coms.”

Now, as Silicon Valley, it is a madhouse: traffic congestion, broken-down roads, rude people, and the homeless.

In July my wife and I attended a funeral involving a once prominent Valley family. The mass was celebrated at a prominent local Catholic mission and the reception at a local country club. Gazing around at both the church and the club, I realized that I had momentarily returned to Santa Clara Valley. All attendees were well-dressed and courteous and gave the impression of nobility, in contrast to the many slobs of Silicon Valley.

Robert C. Whitten
Cupertino, Calif.

Mr. Welsch Replies:

Robert, your letter is fascinating, and “slobs of Silicon Valley” is accurate—I have known several. Steve Jobs, with his black turtleneck, set the tone for the rest of the industry, but there is something deeper going on there. Other tech entrepreneurs including Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have also expressed a desire to limit their attire to the most bland, utilitarian garments possible. It has further devolved into the outright slovenliness of the average Big Tech apparatchik. So too with their meals, as Silicon Valley has created “Soylent” and other bland, functional, liquid meals-in-a-can.

I’ve come to believe that there is an almost monastic, religious impulse in the way the tech elite live. It’s ironic, given their almost uniform contempt for traditional religion. They have a similar disdain for material things and irrelevancies such as fashion, manners, and morals. Instead, they are focused on their Big Machine God, which exists in the numinous realm of computer science—the Artificial Intelligence, the Sacred Algorithm—for which they will eagerly serve as technological priests, and into which they see humanity being slowly merged, and finally, subsumed. I write this tongue-in-cheek. But at the same time I’m not exaggerating much from what I’ve heard from the technophiles I’ve known. They talk about the emergence of greater-than-human artificial intelligence like the devout talk about the return of the Messiah. Let’s hope that, in the end, they suffer the same fate as the prophets of Baal.